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Steelers Make Leap with New Role for Patrick Peterson: ‘I’m the Joker in the Deck of Cards’



Patrick Peterson Steelers CB
Steelers CB Patrick Peterson comes out of the tunnel agains the 49ers, Sept. 10, 2023 - Ed Thompson '/ Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Patrick Peterson was the Ace in a deck of cards early in his career. One of the league’s best cornerbacks and a future Hall of Famer, Peterson would shut down top wide receivers weekly. But now, in his older years, things have changed for Peterson. He’s morphed himself into something different. At the same time, he played cornerback and did so primarily to begin the season with Joey Porter Jr. on the sideline; recently, the Steelers unleashed his versatility.

Peterson plays in the slot, at dimebacker, and in the latest game against the Titans, he played a lot of safety. He played a season-high 18 snaps at free safety, with 11 more coming in the box as a hybrid player who would blitz and match guys that the Titans would throw at him. So, what is he now?

“I think I’m still a cornerback,” Peterson said. “But I’m just the Joker in the deck of cards. I’m one of the two Jokers”

Steelers CB Patrick Peterson

Steelers CB Patrick Peterson against the Cleveland Browns, Sept. 19, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

In any of those decks, the Joker card is adaptable to replicate any other real card, which Patrick Peterson loves so much about his new spot. It’s different than anything else he has done in his career, but that challenge has almost reignited what Peterson loves about football. It is a new challenge for him to embrace and conquer, which might fit his skill set much better at this point. But throughout his career, he talked about leaping to safety and the slot. The Steelers were the only place willing to take that leap and give him a shot there.

“It does feel different because I never had the opportunity to do it in any of the other places I was at,” Peterson said. “Like I talked about early on when I first signed here, coach (Mike Tomlin) told me I would have the opportunity to do that. My eyes just lit up because I want to be a ballplayer and be at any position they feel, and I feel can help the team be successful. It’s just a new challenge that I love and embrace.”

Peterson’s Versatility Keeps Going Up

Pittsburgh had a plan for Peterson to become their next Cam Sutton. Even after he moved to outside cornerback, Sutton never stopped being the critical cog in the defensive secondary, playing all over the place. But that was his selling point, and Pittsburgh hopes that Peterson’s football IQ could allow him to come and step into that role. It has mixed results at points, but the thought is to get him out of man coverage, which will enable him to cover space and read with his eyes rather than react to the guy in front of him.

At 33 years old, Peterson has admittedly lost a step. But in the zone coverage heavy Vikings defense a year ago, Peterson enjoyed a renaissance season. He used his eyes and ball skills to become a feared ballhawk, and now, he is optimistic that he can get similar results out of his role. Peterson wants to get to the point where quarterbacks do not know where he is on a given play, and that can change what teams do. Offenses already have to worry about that when Minkah Fitzpatrick is out there, but with his injury, Peterson’s safety usage shot up drastically.

“I enjoy coming to work each and every day; I know it’s going to be something new for me,” Peterson said. “Like last week, coach gave me the (heads-up) that I’m probably going to be playing in Minkah’s position in those money downs. My antenna went up, and I started smiling, cheesing ear to ear, now having opportunity to do that on the tail end of my career — something I always wanted to do — and now having an opportunity to do it for a storied franchise and a team that really relies on its defense, there ain’t no better feeling.”

Take it from the man himself. It’s something different. It’s also something rewarding. Peterson has had a rough time playing in a lot of man coverage early this season, but he hopes this new look role for him can transform his game into something it was not before. A joker in the deck of cards, perhaps.